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World of Goo

The Goo are awake. They’d been sleeping for ages, lurking deep in the recesses of our modern world. Discarded and forgotten, like so many wads of chewed gum. But they survived. Thrived. And now, with numbers beyond reckoning, they’re on the move. It’s not about taking over the world, or exacting vengeance upon those who have misused their power. The Goo are driven by something far more basic: curiosity. What secrets lie within the urban wastelands left by their corporate masters? What is beyond the borders of the land, and past the sky itself? Are there more Goo waiting to be discovered? Why do they even exist? The answers are out there, hiding somewhere beyond the opening of a seemingly endless pipeline. The Goo don’t know what looms at the other end of that man-made labyrinth, but they don’t care. The pipe is all that matters.

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But they can’t get to it. Not on their own, anyway. They spend most of their time milling mindlessly around a given stage, waiting for someone to come up with a way to access the pipe. It’s kind of hard getting anywhere when you’re just a limbless mass of sentient toxic waste. But the Goo don’t need arms or legs to achieve their goals; their strength comes with some good old-fashioned teamwork. By using their slimy outer coatings, the Goo balls can stick to each other and use their bodies as makeshift structures. Is that pipe dangling a few feet too high? Try building a tower of the stuff, one living piece at a time. If there’s a giant boulder of Goo about to go careening off the edge of a cliff, you can whip up a structure capable of catching it and delivering it safely to another ledge. But since a set number of Goo balls have to make it into the pipe in order to clear a level, you can’t go all-out with your architectural scheming. The trick is learning how to build the most effective structures with as few balls as possible.

It’s not easy, either. The game has an unwavering dedication to the laws of physics, which means your buildings have to be at least halfway as structurally sound as anything you might see in the real world. Take a bridge, for example. The game is loaded with stages in which you have to build something over an otherwise impassable area. Your first instinct might be to build straight across the open chasm and get to the other side as quickly as possible. Do that, and your Goo are doomed; the bridge will collapse under its own weight and send the rest of your party careening into a bottomless pit. If you bothered to put in support beams and brace the structure against the surface of the cliff, your bridge might make it across unscathed. The same thing goes for anything else you might try to make; a hundred-foot pyramid of Goo might look cool…until it starts swaying from gravity’s effect on a poorly constructed foundation and goes crashing on its side. Few games, if any, feature such a fine-tuned grasp on physics and its importance in the fundamentals of the gameplay mechanics.

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It might take a little effort to get everything down, but the practice is worth it. Once you get beyond the thinly-veiled trainee levels, the difficulty takes off and never looks back. It’s all about the design; even The Sign Painter (a mysterious fellow that leaves you clues in each level) calls the terrain “ridiculously contrived.” Many of the later levels are crammed with whirring gears, searing fires, and all kinds of other hazards. You know that bridge you just made? Rather than having enough Goo balls to make support beams, you might have to rely on balloons to keep it from falling into spiky deathtrap. Or maybe you have to build your way out of a monster’s stomach, rising from its oily stomach juices up through spinning parts of its mechanical throat. The variety of Goo balls make it even more interesting; one species might be able to cling to any surface, while another could be reused multiple times to make different structures. Many of the later levels revolve around such specialties. You might have to build a web of flammable Goo, but have it connected in a way that leaves a section of it untouched. Other levels might have you sacrifice parts of your structure just to make the rest of it manageable. The solutions to these levels aren’t always apparent, and it could take you hours just to wrap your head around a given approach. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as seeing your most carefully crafted plan work without a hitch.

But if just beating a level isn’t enough for you, the game makes sure to give you something to strive for. Aside from the basic clearing conditions, each level comes with its own OCD (Obsession Completion Distinction) criteria. You know that build-a-tower stage you’re so good at? Try completing it while saving twice as many Goo balls as you normally would. Or a severely limited amount of moves, or within a seemingly impossible time limit. Finishing these secondary objectives might force you to completely rethink a strategy to a level you thought you’ve already mastered. That’s aside from the World of Goo Corporation, which is an open-ended stage in which you build a structure with all the extra balls you’ve saved from the other levels. The objective is to construct the tallest tower as you possibly can, and your results can be uploaded online to compare with other gamers’ attempts. Not only is it a great way to show off your building skills, but it gives you a greater incentive to keep playing long after you’ve completed everything else.

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Despite the gameplay’s amazing blend of complex puzzle solving and physics, the controls drag it down. You (and up to three friends via co-op) can use the WiiMote to point and click which ball you want to use and what direction/angle you want to place it on the structure. While it’s fairly straightforward approach, it can be inaccurate. Say you’ve got a huge crowd of Goo, but you want to choose a particular one, like a sticky or flammable ball. There’s no way to keep them separated from the rest of the group, which means you might choose the wrong kind or accidentally pluck out a Goo already supporting your structure. That can be really annoying, especially when you’re frantically trying to save a building from an imminent collapse. No amount of planning can keep your party alive when you can’t even choose the necessary material. The game would have benefited from a more organized approach; a basic menu or a management system a la Pikmin would have kept the building mechanics from devolving into a hunt for the right Goo. The same goes for the camera work; rather than having to aim the WiiMote to drag the perspective around the level, the game could have used one of the controller’s other buttons to do so. The problems aren’t bad enough to break the game, but a few minor tweaks would have made it flawless.

Small gameplay issues aside, the game is well-crafted in nearly every aspect. World of Goo has one of, if not the best soundtracks of any game in recent memory. It’s got a little bit of everything; epic orchestrations, opera, techno, low-key jazz, funky beats, metal, and large dash of Danny Elfman thrown in for good measure. That last part is appropriate, given the game’s Tim Burton-esque style. The Goo come from a place where a corporation manufactures them into a beauty product, 3D animation shatters the fabric of reality, and your most powerful ally is a defunct spambot. It’s a dark and often absurd story, but it’s told well. It’s presented even better; despite the simplistic and borderline cartoon-style animations, the atmosphere is always spot-on. Take the Blustery Day level, for example: you have to build a line of Goo amidst tornado-force winds. Not only are the Goo getting blasted by the current, but you can see the wisps of dust flying around, the trees nearly getting torn out of the ground, and the windmills spinning into a frenzy. All while a dramatic piano track sets the tone and mood perfectly. It’s one of many areas of World of Goo that comes together so perfectly.

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That’s what this game is all about: taking a few simple gameplay mechanics and utilizing them to their greatest potential. The blend of puzzle solving and physic fundamentals is what makes it all happen. The challenges are incredibly well-designed; despite having a little less than fifty playable stages, many of them require a ton of planning and countless retries before you get them right. With so many different kinds of Goo and an ever-increasing level of complexity, the later areas will definitely give you a run for your money. Mastering the gameplay has its rewards; beating the game with the OCD requirements not only nets you more bragging rights, but lets you build further in the game’s open-ended challenge. The awkward controls are the only problem, but it’s nothing game-breaking. Besides, the stellar soundtrack, engrossing atmosphere, and quirky style will keep you hooked. And the craziest part of all? It only took two people to come up with something this awesome. If there was ever a game that demonstrated quality over quantity, this is it.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2005.

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